September 10, 2018
A four-day working week could become a reality this century, according to the general secretary of the Trade Union Congress and a new TUC report. In a key speech to the TUC’s annual congress set to be delivered later today, Frances O’Grady will call for firms to use technology in a way to improve the lives of workers and cut the number of hours they spend working. However, the union also concedes that it may take government intervention for this to happen, given the way technology has encouraged the extension of working time over past few decades.
Government and business estimate that new technologies could boost UK GDP by at least £200bn in the next decade. But most UK workers (51%) expect that the benefits of new technology will be hoarded by managers and shareholders, rather than shared fairly between managers, shareholders and ordinary workers (34%).
The TUC says that the government must act now to make sure workers share in these gains, by raising workers’ living standards and giving them more control at work.
Shorter hours and higher pay
Full time workers in the UK put in some of the longest hours in the EU, behind only Austria and Greece. And they rack up £32 billion worth of unpaid overtime. New analysis in the report shows that the number of people working all seven days of the week has now reached more than 1.4 million.
Reducing working time is a way to share the gains of increased prosperity. Eight in ten workers (81%) want to reduce working time in the future – with 45% of workers opting for a four-day working week, without loss of pay, as new tech makes work more efficient. The TUC says the UK should consider how to move to a four-day week over the course of this century. And after the longest pay squeeze for 200 years, improving wages tops the list of workers’ concerns.
Most workers (74%) want technology to give them more control over their working lives. But many employers now demand that workers do unpredictable or unsocial hours, or keep staff constantly on standby to work at the demand of an app or text message.
This always-on culture, where workers are on standby without being paid, cuts into time with family and friends and makes it impossible to plan life outside work. And it’s being facilitated by new workplace tech that takes away workers’ rights. The TUC wants immediate action to tighten working time rules, ban zero-hours contracts, and give workers fair notice of their shifts.
Hopes and fears
Two-thirds (66%) expect that automation will lead to work becoming faster-paced and more intensive. And a similar number (72%) expect they will be more closely monitored by bosses. But workers are positive about what could be achieved if technological change is managed in the right way, including fewer dangerous jobs (68%), more creative work (68%), more enjoyable work (66%), and more use of interpersonal skills (66%).
Making sure the benefits are shared
The TUC says that if workers are to enjoy real benefits from technological change, unions must have a stronger say in workplaces, so that companies that use technology have to negotiate on its use and make sure productivity gains actually benefit workers, through improved pay and conditions. And nationally, unions, employers and government should work together to make sure that new technology benefits the UK workforce, through a new future of work commission.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Workers are having a hard time. They’ve suffered the longest pay squeeze in 200 years. Millions of people are stuck in insecure jobs and stressed out. And too many employers are using tech to treat workers unfairly. Bosses and shareholders must not be allowed to hoover up all the gains from new tech for themselves. Working people deserve their fair share – and that means using the gains from new tech to raise pay and allow more time with their families.
“When the TUC’s first Congress took place 150 years ago, people worked ten hours a day with only Sunday off. But in the last century we won a two-day weekend and limits on long hours. This century, we must raise our sights to reduce working time again. If productivity gains from new technology are even half as good as promised, then the country can afford to make working lives better.”
“In the nineteenth century, unions campaigned for an eight-hour day. In the twentieth century, we won the right to a two-day weekend and paid holidays. So, for the twenty-first century, let’s lift our ambition again. I believe that in this century we can win a four-day working week, with decent pay for everyone.”
“It’s time to share the wealth from new technology. Not allow those at the top to grab it for themselves. Jeff Bezos owns Amazon – now a trillion dollar company. He’s racking up the billions while his workers are collapsing on the job exhausted. We need strong unions with the right to go into every workplace – starting with Amazon’s warehouses here in the UK.”
In response to this statement, a spokesperson from Amazon responded: “Amazon provides a safe and positive workplace for thousands of people across the UK with competitive pay and benefits from day one. We have a focus on ensuring we provide a great environment for all our employees and Amazon was recently named by LinkedIn as the 7th most sought after place to work in the UK and ranked first place in the US. Amazon also offers public tours of its fulfilment centres so customers can see first-hand what happens after they click “buy” on Amazon by visiting uk.amazonfctours.com.”